The first day of NHL free agency came and went Friday without so much as a depth signing by the Washington Capitals, who continue to have a quiet offseason after failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
General Manager George McPhee makes his dislike of the inflated contracts that are a trademark of NHL free agency well known, and given that the Capitals still have to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson, their inactivity wasn’t unexpected.
But every member of their new division made some type of lineup addition this week — whether through free agency, re-signing a roster player or a trade — and the Capitals only had subtractions.
Free agents Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks left for Phoenix and Nashville, respectively, where they both received lengthy contract terms and salaries that the Capitals weren’t willing to offer.
Ribeiro, 33, signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Coyotes. While Washington would have liked to bring Ribeiro back, they didn’t want to commit to more than a three-year deal in part because of his age.
Salary cap constraints prevented them from offering an average annual salary of $5.5 million without restructuring their roster and salary cap management strategy. In an interview with TSN, Ribeiro said Washington “didn’t come close” to what he agreed to with Phoenix.
Ribeiro’s departure leaves Washington without a second-line center once again. Barring an offseason addition — Mikhal Grabovski and Derek Roy are among the unspectacular group of free agent pivots remaining — the Capitals will likely turn to Brooks Laich to fill that role.
Hendricks, 32, had hoped to return to Washington, but given that this summer was his prime opportunity to land a significant contract for the first time in his career, the numbers never worked out. He landed four-year, $7.4 million contract with the Predators and is excited to play a more defensive, gritty style.
“The system that they play will give me opportunity to move up and down the lineup, and that has a lot to do with the decision that we made,” Hendricks said in a phone interview Friday. “With the way the salary cap works — Washington has players that are restricted free agents, who need to get signed and demand a little more money and that squeezes players such as myself out. That’s the business.”
While the Capitals didn’t make a move of any sort Friday, they were an exception to the rule as NHL teams spent more than $360 million on signings in the first five hours of free agency. Even with a class of free agents lacking significant star power, players received stunningly, if not questionably, large salaries and term.
Within Washington’s yet-to-be-named new division, the Columbus Blue Jackets made arguably the biggest splash, signing power forward Nathan Horton, 28, to a seven-year, $37. 1 million deal. Horton will miss the first two or three months of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
New Jersey signed gritty winger Ryane Clowe, 30, to a five-year contract worth $24.25 million to help lessen the blow of losing David Clarkson, 29, who signed a seven-year, $36.75 million deal in Toronto. Earlier this week, the Devils re-signed Patrik Elias (three years, $16.5 million) and traded to acquire goaltender Cory Schneider from Vancouver.
Having already landed center Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Mark Streit, the Flyers were relatively quiet Friday but did sign Ray Emery to a one-year, $1.65 million deal to shore up their depth chart in net.
Carolina also added to its goaltending, signing the bargain backup it needed in former Bruin Anton Khudubin (one year, $800,000). The Hurricanes picked up Andrej Sekera in a trade at the draft but opted to add more defensive depth with veteran Mike Komisarek, who had been bought out by the Maple Leafs, on a one-year, $700,000 deal.
Pittsburgh brought back two-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman Rob Scuderi (four years, $13.5 million) and grinder Craig Adams (two years, $1.2 million) Friday after already re-signing winger Pascal Dupuis this week.
The Islanders re-signed goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (one year, $3.25 million), added center Peter Regin (one year, $750,000), winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard (one year, $2 million) and inked RFA defenseman Travis Hamonic to a seven-year deal worth $27 million. The Rangers, who have five restricted free agents still to sign, weren’t especially busy, but signed bottom-six forward Dominic Moore to a one-year, $1 million contract.
While none of the contracts doled out Friday may have been perfect fits for the Capitals, the teams they will be vying against to reach the playoffs are busy making changes in an effort to improve. Will Washington be able to keep up?